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Tag: New Issues Press

An Inspiring Day in Kalamazoo: Poems

Happy Sunday, friends! I hope you each had a wonderful weekend and are looking forward to Monday.

Believe it or not, I actually am excited about Monday, because I’ll be spending time with my kiddos and (gasp!) writing.

This weekend was of the whirlwind variety, taking me through Chicago, down to Indiana, up into Michigan, and back again. I’m home now, comfortable in my own space after so much catching up, via inspiring, intellectual, and fun conversations with family, former colleagues, and writers alike.

I was invited to a New Issues event today, entitled, “Celebrating New Issues: Honoring Bill Olsen’s 10 Years of Editorship.” When I found out Bill was retiring this year from teaching and editing (at least in a formal capacity), I knew I had to find a way to make it to Michigan. Fortunately, we were able to make it work by making a weekend out of it, spending time with family and then heading to Michigan for the reading.

It was wonderful to reconnect with so many writers from around Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, and also to see those integral to New Issues Poetry and Prose, and the English / Creative Writing Department at Western.

Though I’ll inevitably be writing tonight and tomorrow, I wanted to share for now two poems, not written by me, that were read at the New Issues celebration, as well as two poems from New Issues’ latest publications… I’ll be sharing more of Bill’s work later in the week, once I’ve had a chance to properly revisit his work; I hope you’ll stay tuned for that, because his work is amazing.

First, poems by New Issues’ latest: “Distillation Poem” from Eman Hassan’s Raghead and “Mistress of the House” from Chet’la Sebree’s Mistress.

Kuwait, Active-Present

Everything is different and yet the same.

The same moon arcs across skies less
and less blue, while vanity mirrors

still reflect an ever-constant me me me, still
deflect backgrounds of sponsored Asians in bondage.

Fingers of moonlight grow long across dressing tables,
wrap eyes in gossamer bandages…

… if you’re looking for a sonnet, this isn’t it.

Come, take your pill and remember
those petrified lessons of war’s carnage, come

smell the putrid outpouring of sewage, still let
into the sea, in the dim-lit dead of night,

raw as the dead who now see
standing behind each shoulder like worried angels

longing for fingers to touch, to unfasten the knots
at the backs of our skulls…


I want to learn to sit cross-ankled
and set an Emily Post table,

want to invite my colleagues to dinner
and play hostess supreme—

serving beef bourguignon and baked Alaska,
all gluten-free—to retire

to a bed bearing a partner
in satisfied exhaustion.

I want a deep-lunged beast
to stir me from my sleep,

want to be good at something
other than this writing exhibitionism,

even though I lost the first baby I loved
and prefer eating pork rinds alone.


Next, a poem by Bill, from his latest collection, TechnoRage:


The woods running out of breath
were paradise, you and I
rocking in sex like kids on swings,
trying out open tunings
or whatever we wished that seemed pure
and apart from our parents
and all humankind, and now
the ice caps are on the verge
of a nervous breakdown,
it’s time our generation said
goodbye. That bowling ball
in my hands was my head,
before even midnight died
there was lots of wind to listen lost to
but when it lightninged
one beautiful sight was you.

And the world was just like
a reality and mostly ours to
kite alongside our loved ones
hurled like birds by the wind
beak first into the mortuary.
We stopped crying at the sad parts
to cry at the joyous parts,
then turn to one another.


Finally, a poem by Robert Hass, from his collection, The Apple Trees at Olema, to wrap things up.


Late afternoon in June the fog rides in
across the ridge of pines, ghosting them,
and settling on the bay to give a muted gray
luster to the last hours of light and take back
what we didn’t know at midday we’d experience
as lack: the blue summer and the dry spiced scent
of the summer woods. It’s as if some cold salt god
had wandered inland for a nap. You still see
herons fishing in the shallows, a kingfisher or an osprey
emerges for a moment out of the high, drifting mist,
then vanishes again. And the soft, light green leaves
of the thimbleberry and the ridged coffeeberry leaves
and the needles of the redwoods and pines look more sprightly
in the cool gray air with the long dusk coming on,
since fog is their natural element. I had it in mind
that this description of the weather would be a way
to say things come and go, a way of subsuming
the rhythms of arrival and departure to a sense
of how brief the time is on a summer afternoon
when the sun is warm on your neck and the world
might as well be a dog sleeping on a porch, or a child
for whom an afternoon is endless, endless. Time:
thick honey, and no one saying good-bye.


Have a wonderful evening, all.


Poem of the Day: David Dodd Lee




There are poems about bluegills. There are poems
about trout. The bluegill doesn’t give a shit.
It’ll eat a bare hook but would rather not hear
about your childhood. The bluegill’s thick headed.
It hunkers down in the weeds, thinking. The trout’s like a young girl
in a wedding gown. Touch it and it dies.
You can pull a bluegill out a pike’s ass, it might
still swim away. I’m not talking about pumpkinseeds,
those little flecks of tinsel. The bluegill’s
the stud of all panfish. People catch pumpkinseeds
thinking they’re bluegills. A pumpkinseed shivers;
it thinks it’s going to convince you it’s cold.
Bluegills are fatalists. A slab in your hand may jerk its head
twice. Once hooked it goes for the mud. By the time
it’s resting on a flotation device it’s willing to die.
It doesn’t grope like a rock bass, swallowing air,
the bluegill’s a realist. It knows it’s just a wedge of painted flesh,
heavy enough to pull you half out of the boat.
If you’ve got a big white bucket of panfish
sitting on top of the ice, the bluegill’s the one still living,
thinking, its head like a stapler, mulling things over.


—from David Dodd Lee’s Downsides of Fish Culture, New Issues Poetry and Prose (1997)




Poem of the Day: John Rybicki




I wheel my bed into the yard,
stand it upright, braced on all sides
by ropes. I am too small to house skies,
bat-winged angels drunk on tar,
dogs scraping their tongues
against pavement. My veins
finger through cement
until they find grass, Irish fields
of winter wheat.

What a strange curse to be God,
stuffed with blood and poked
with so many holes.
I need no priest.
I roll my long hands out
to the rag people whose fingers
lace up through sewer lids,
spines hunched in a room
below ground.

I want to let go of it,
believe me.
My bones are too small to arch around it.
But it is morning and I am featherless,
black-lunged from a night in long tunnels.
The light has me by the hands,
is dragging me into its fire.


—from John Rybicki’s Traveling at High Speeds, New Issues Poetry and Prose (2003)




Poem of the Day: Julie Moulds




I say my prayers upside down, the wind
blowing me like a clothespinned robe,
my little bat hands curled together. I look for God

in a school of fish. I look for God in Mammoth Cave.
I look for God in an air balloon. If Jesus’
hot coal head is the sun rising, where does

He hide his body? Or does the body merely
flatten black like a shadow, then disappear in sun?
An unravelling ghost, round as a coin, tells me

of Judas, how he still benedict arnolds
through the meadow bought with ruddy silver:
his neck choking in an argentine knot, his entrails

snaking out like squirrel tails. In His dressing room
like Al Jolson, God masquerades as Night.
He blackens His paint-pink hands. He blackfaces

His clown-white countenance, while a goat
drinks Christ’s blood and sprouts fur wings.
A frog drinks Christ’s blood and becomes

a green bat. Made of fire, a crackle man jumps
in a thorny bush. He blows me a gas-blue kiss,
then cries, I am God and you are my new Moses.

Take a dip? I say, and hopscotch over heat-
baked sand. He pulls up the charred bush
like a tutu, follows me into meringue white waves.


—from Julie Moulds’ The Woman with a Cubed Head, New Issues Poetry and Prose (1998)




Poem of the Day: Beckian Fritz Goldberg




I wanted to stay in the earth:
There, I needed no skin—the dark
body was all around me.
I had no tongue. Above me, sleep,
a heaven of snow. Years,
years. Then the split,

the blue heart lifted almost
out—who was coming to save me?
How would I know myself, outside

And then the sky. The you.
The first terrifying eye of a bird
coming down to me, a kiss
forced open. When I was buried

I did not need to forget. You
are what I need to forget
but not now—
not with everything in the air,
not with these lips
so designed to fail…


—from Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems, New Issues Poetry and Prose (2010)




Poem of the Day: Diane Seuss




It takes your bones to bed,
tongues out the marrow.
Says it will meet you halfway,
a hotel deep in Oklahoma
where you’ll get adjoining rooms
and have a couple of nervous
breakdowns. It’s a no-show, waylaid.
It orders the venison sausage,
the lamb, the infant in puff
pastry, picks its pretty white
teeth with the pins from your little
sister’s hair. Churns you till you
congeal, till the cream goes hard,
courts you till you’ve got a hard-on,
bangs your machine with its hips till you tilt,
your flippers frozen. Your heart’s a tilt-a-whirl,
throwing off steam into the frigid night,
spinning heartsick, heartbreak.
It dances close with its hands
on your nipples, immaculately conceives you
and runs off with the kid in the night,
wears five watches on each arm, pillaged
from your ancestors, innocent and burned,
wrestles with your mother, gets your father
to confess his infidelities at Sunday dinner,
puts its fist in the cake, picks the buttercream
crucifixes off the hot cross buns,
teaches brother to piss his name into the snow,
shaves his head, needles him till he’s tattooed.
It grows gorgeous on its deathbed,
rises gloriously to the occasion,
wills you its curls, its secret codes,
licks your fingerprints like a creamy cat,
dies with the grace of the curtain-pull at the golden opera,
clasps its hands, kisses Jesus on the lips, its body
lit from within like a fawnskin lampshade.
And all you want to do is revive it. You’ll write
circles around it, half-assed parables halfway told,
with bandaged hands, with all the bones
in your face showing, by god,
you’ll make a religion of it.


—from Diane Seuss’ It Blows You Hollow, New Issues Poetry and Prose (1998)




Jericho Brown: A Poem


Like hail from a blind sky,
the body falls. He drinks wine from broken
shot glasses and wears a goatee. This
is his appearance to some. For others, he continues
on his way in bare feet and white robes.
In either world, he takes his time.
Whether or not his words contain the rush
of truth and hard business is, for some,
debatable. But what we cannot ignore is this:
the woman floating down the Byway,
the healed cancer patient, turned vegan, and
our fascination with the Afterlife, put to the test
by all those mouths—gnawing and chewing
and somersaulting in the search of rest.
Whether or not all this meat ends in a place of
fixed healing or soiled bone
is yet to be answered. On his quest, this man
gathers what is left of all these bodies
and places them in a cellar, gives them the time
they need to age, to cure. What we know is this:
when he opens the door again, it will be light
and dirt-bodies, with eyes and open mouths
looking up.




“Like hail from a blind sky” taken from Jericho Brown’s poem, “Prayer of the Backhanded,” published in his collection, Please (2008) from New Issues Poetry & Prose. Thank you for the inspiration, Jericho.




Throughout the month of November, I’ve been participating in the challenge of writing daily with a few of my colleagues and friends. At the beginning of the month, I offered to start a privatized blog, November Daily, on which our group could post the poems we were writing for the sake of accountability and potential feedback. I decided, additionally, to include daily, optional writing prompts that might challenge us to push our writing in new directions—from writing in a form to using particular words to finding new inspiration. We’re nearly a third of the way through the month already, and I’m happily back to writing every day, and it’s been a real ride.

My purpose in telling you all of this was for the sake of sharing what I believe to be an important issue: the inspiration from and conversation with other writers. For today’s (November 9’s) writing prompt, I asked everyone to choose a writer they were not familiar with yet—whether it was an old great they felt obligated to know, or a writer they kept meaning to check out, etc.—and use their name as the title of today’s poem. Then, I asked that they select one whole line from one of the writer’s poems and use that, either, as an epigraph or as the first line of their poem. From some of the feedback I received via email for this prompt, I expect my cohorts will not complete the prompt, or will simply cut the title and first line as soon as the day is over.

But for me, that presents an interesting question—Why?

I’m not worried about my cohorts disliking the prompts I present; they’re optional for a reason, and they’re obviously not going to work for everyone. But since when is borrowing a line from a writer you appreciate a demonstration of laziness, a lack of inspiration, or worse, disrespect?

In my mind, if a young writer were to read one of my poems and end up being so fueled by one of the lines that they started a poem from it? To be frank, I would be down-right flattered. To know that I had inspired someone into their own poem, to know that they were starting a conversation with me about what a line, a word, can mean, and then turning my meaning on its head to begin their own—I would become greedy and would want that to happen more often.

Our writing should never experience a time of stasis or complacency; it should always be breathing, thinking, adapting and changing. If that means completing an unusual prompt, then do it. If it means using a thesaurus or writing a dictionary poem (which, to this day, I love to do), then do it. If it means writing a poem backwards and rearranging the lines, to see what happens, then do it. AND FOR GOODNESS SAKE, experience your favorite writers’ works. If that means writing a poem that stems from a word or line or concept from one of their poems, as long as you give them credit where credit is due, then you are doing nothing but being innovative: you’re reading other writers’ works, you’re thinking while writing, you’re open enough to be inspired by their work, and you’re ending on a note of creation . . . and going so far as to start a conversation with that writer by including their name as the title.

I’m a young writer, and I have a lot to learn. For some of you out there, you may be asking why I feel I can speak to this subject, without having my work formerly published as a collection, and without having the experience of having someone borrow from my work. But maybe it’s because I am a young writer that I feel I can speak to this particular subject—I’m at a time in my life when I want to be as open to change and new ideas and criticism as possible, because I want my poetry to do everything. Including compliment writers I appreciate and love.

So in this particular case, this is my really long-winded way of talking craft, at least off-the-cuff, and it’s my time to say:

Jericho Brown, I really appreciate your writing and your collection, Please; and if you ever happen to (somehow?!) see this blog post, then know that I’ve written this poem as the highest respect, and from a deep, gnawing inspiration found in your poetry.




Horses, Etc.: The Kinesthetic Nature of Marni Ludwig’s Pinwheel


marni ludwig pinwheel Typically when I read a poetry collection that is more surreal in nature, I eventually reach some level of disappointment, simply for the reason that the collection lacks a form of balance between the concrete and the surreal. In Marni Ludwig’s collection, Pinwheel, however, I never reached this level of disappointment. Though the collection finds its home in the surreal and continues to be severely imagistic, there is a narrative arch woven in throughout that develops over time.

In my mind, while there are a variety of directions the reader may take this narrative arch, I found my personal center in following the trek of a blind girl (or even, the concept of blindness) who reappears in several of the poems throughout. Within this arch, the poems were enticingly involved in the kinesthetic—the movement of horses, the body in dance, the body and mind’s relationship to nature, as well as the potential absence of a bodily sense: in this case, eye sight.

In this way, while the poems continue to be somewhat inaccessible, these moments of doors closing are explained away through this lack of eye sight: surely the imagistic details, or the acts of a moving creature, may be confused or even transformed through being experienced by bodily senses other than that of eyesight. This gives the collection a special authenticity, in the way of exploring this variety of topics without the traditional context of the observer, followed by touch or taste; rather, the collection becomes hinged on these later senses and contains a freshness through that avenue.

Extremely impressive, I really enjoyed Ludwig’s first full-length collection and am looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.




After the girl
with the handful of mice
and a tiny silver guillotine leaves,
we lie down in the dark.

You tell me last night
you dreamed you wore
a beard. The night before
you drowned but did not sleep.

On the screen behind us
citizens of a great island
build the streets
toward a difficult sky.

On the next screen
a blind girl steps
before a shining faucet
and lets her dress fall.




Ludwig, Marni. Pinwheel. Kalamazoo: New Issues Press, 2013. Print.




If you’re interested in purchasing Pinwheel, please visit New Issues Press.




Reading Marni Ludwig




After the girl
with the handful of mice
and a tiny silver guillotine leaves,
we lie down in the dark.

You tell me last night
you dreamed you wore
a beard. The night before
you drowned but did not sleep.

On the screen behind us
citizens of a great island
build the streets
toward a difficult sky.

On the next screen
a blind girl steps
before a shining faucet
and lets her dress fall.




Listen, I am returning to where you are.

Wisteria, wisteria,
asleep on the stalk,
show me how to keep
the mouth soft.

Inside, wasps

are building cornices in the dust
and not one accurate place
in the silence.




Face down in the sun you can say you followed an animal
into the sun. We were having a conversation
about her pain. Lamb and Pin, first in line,
and then the other ponies trailing behind, mending
their shadows by the little coughing light of dusk.

And the birds dropped in our laps.

How could the sky have forsaken usafter we made it
small, to match our faith, and rode it
so purposefully into the breezeway.

From the east, you shall hear the call of seventy pentecostal hoof-taps.
From the west, the haystack whispers, slow learner.

Once I lost the use of my arms.

It was the only time I felt a kindness toward myself.

As for despair, I’ve learned to sit with it,
to arch my back and sink
the weight into my heels.

Every night I oil the saddle.
Every night I spit onto the torn bed-sheet,
rubbing concentrically until I find you
lying in the grass, drinking at the mouth
of the river of an inner ear.




I dreamed I swam in a public park
while leather-beaked ducks
ate black bread at the edge
of the cool water. I was afraid
to feed them. I was afraid of the sun,
which showed me the original image
of myself, floating on my back.

A dog barked and then another dog
raised its head. I feel I deserve to die
if I have made a mistake. Underneath
the lake: bird music, cold sky
swimming up to meet my hands.




Ludwig, Marni. Pinwheel. Kalamazoo: New Issues Press, 2013. Print.




If you’re interested in purchasing Pinwheel, please visit New Issues Press.